NASCAR & Auto Racing

Schumacher clinches spot in Countdown to 1

DINWIDDIE, Va. – Tony Schumacher led Top Fuel qualifying Saturday in the Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals to join three other drivers in clinching berths in the Countdown to 1, the two-race championship that marks the end of the NHRA Playoffs. The Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals is the fourth and final race in the first round of the playoffs, which will halve the field of title contenders from eight to four. One spot remains open in Top Fuel, three in Funny Car and two in Pro Stock.

Larry Dixon and Rod Fuller also wrapped up Top Fuel spots Saturday, and Tony Pedregon clinched his position in Funny Car.

The fourth and final berth in Top Fuel will be the subject of a monster first-round matchup Sunday between fourth-place Brandon Bernstein and fifth-place Bob Vandergriff Jr. Bernstein enters the race with a 27-point cushion, meaning Vandergriff would have to beat him and win another round (each round win is worth 20 points) to move past Bernstein and secure the fourth and final playoff berth.

Rounding out the top qualifiers Saturday were Funny Car’s Tommy Johnson Jr. and Pro Stock’s Jeg Coughlin, the latter of whom effectively put another round between himself and his nearest pursuer (fifth-place Jason Line) in the fight to make the fourth and final berth in the Pro Stock Countdown to 1.

In the race to make the Funny Car Countdown to 1, Ron Capps and Gary Scelzi have moved into a tie for the fourth and final berth (Scelzi owns the tiebreaker). As the 15th qualifier with a 4.901-second run, Capps has the toughest first-round draw as he’ll face No. 2 qualifier Robert Hight (4.790) in the opening round. Scelzi qualified eighth with a 4.849 and will race non-Countdown racer Del Worsham in Round 1.

Seven points out of fourth place, Mike Ashley qualified third with a 4.797. Currently third in the points, “Fast Jack” Beckman is fifth here with a 4.835.

The monster matchup of Sunday’s opening round in Pro Stock will feature No. 3 points earner Allen Johnson against sixth-place Kurt Johnson. A.J. qualified sixth with a 6.659 in his Dodge, while K.J. earned the 11th spot on the grid with a 6.681 in his Cobalt.